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The role of Baltic states in cigarette smuggling


Offentliggjort 10/20/2008



Cigarette smuggling is a huge income source for organised crime in the Baltic. The fragile economies of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania get a massive injection of money in the form of millions of dollars and D-mark earned by smuggling in cigarettes


METODE: There are sold 14 billion cigarettes in Baltic states every year.

Additional 20 to 30 percent of cigarettes are sold in black market.

The most popular cigarettes in the black market of Baltic states are
cheap, low class brands (for example 'Prima'), mainly produced in
Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

According to unofficial data, in the domestic market Latvian smugglers
make profits of around 6 to 7 million US dollars. Due to unpaid taxes,
state budget loses around 10 million US dollars.

Profits Estonian smugglers gain from contraband cigarette trade should
be approximately the same. In Lithuania in this kind of business
smugglers are able to earn about 5-6 million US dollars.

It seems that contraband cigarette trade in local black market is business
of small organized groups or solitary traffickers.

Large smuggling groups operate mostly in the United Kingdom, Germany,
Sweeden, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Austria.

According to unofficial data, every three months around 13 million
pounds are brought into Lithuania which are earned selling contraband
cigarettes in the UK black market.

In Lithuania there are 6 or 7 large contraband rings, but only part of
these rings trade in UK black market. In total, around 30 Lithuanian
organised groups smuggle cigarettes to Western Europe, Scandinavian and
Northern countries.

The most popular tobacco smuggling route from Baltic states is the
United Kingdom. Germany and Scandinavian countries are in the second
place. In the smuggling market of these countries the biggest demand is
for medium class cigarettes, such as 'Marlboro', 'West', 'Regal',
'Superkings', 'Benson', 'Fusion', 'Prince'.

The most important question investigating tobacco smuggling routes
through Lithuania was: Where from those guys gain such huge quantities
of cigarettes the black market is flooded with?

It is said, Germany is heaven for smugglers. There are hundreds of
exise warehouses operating grandiose trade of tobacco products from all
over the world. Authorized cigarette distributors from Baltic states,
including Lithuania, have been working there as well.

Authorized cigarette distributors try to present themselves as decent
businessmen inside their own country. But the police suspect that they
might be involved in smuggling of cigarettes they import as well.

Authorized cigarette distributors do not care whom to sell exceeded
quantity of cigarettes to. Every so often they sell goods to criminal
gangs. It is thought that Estonian company "Bankend Eesti", which is
authorized "Philip Morris" distributor, has a direct association with
criminals in this country.

In 1998 Lithuanian government deprived one person of licence when he
was suspected him of having links with criminals.

Currently cigarette smuggling is the most desirable and profitable
business of criminal gangs in Baltic states. Politicians of Baltic
states are still not aware of danger which raises from fast growing
wealth of organized criminals.

Society has already established a firm attitude that cigarette smuggling
does no any harm to Baltic states. On the contrary, it supposedly
brings lots of benefits: our carriers are busy, the budget receives
additional money. Reexported cigarettes ussually are smuggled to other
countries by masking them with export of a variety of local products.
So, it seems that smugglers also support local industry.

Large sums of money, which smuglers donate to support election campaigns
of different parties, strenghten beliefs of politicians that cigarette
smugling is beneficial.

Three years ago I made a journalist investigation and I am able to base
my considerations on concreate evidence from Lithuania.

The old story, long ago forgotten in Lithuania, by coincidence became a
hot problem again.

German officials arested Andreas Nimptshke, the largest cigarette
smuggler in Eastern Europe in the late March. He is alledged leader of
powerful criminal gang which operates illegal transportation of
different goods. Almost 10 years this man had been pulling German
customs officials leg. They knew about A.Nimpschke's tobacco smuggling
business, but had no enough evidence to catch him.

A.Nimpschke had been sending billions of concern 'Reemstma' cigarettes
via Lithuania to Russia, but large part of them had been returned to
Germany and other Western countries and sold in black market. In 1996
this handsome and civilized-looking man called German customs officials
rude names, because they were impeding his business.

I came to Germany because of the story, linked to Lithuania and
Mr.Nimpschke. In spring 1996 European Commision raised a question of
trust in Lithuania as a state, because its officials provided criminals
with secret information.

Despite the fact that leakage of information harmed prestige of
Lithuania, a group of interested people managed to hide it even from the
then political power.

A eurobureucrat told me about the international scandal caused by the
leakage of secret information. I've been looking for more information
almost two months, but failed to find any relevant document or person.

My ivestigative work of cigarette smuggling and officials'attempts to
hide facts about destruction and fogery of important documents was
published in 13th of December, 1997.

The then ruling Conservative party was shocked -- A.Nimptschke was its
political supporter.

Nevertheless, the government started official investigation of facts
published in the daily 'Lietuvos rytas'. It was intended to take
licences from Lithuanian partners of A.Nimptschke.

A.Nimptschke once and for all broke relations with his business partners
in Lithuania. By then a real war started for the right to distribute
cigarettes of concern 'Reemstsma' in Eastern market and for a licence to
import them in Lithuania.

Redivision of market have struck Russian Kaliningrad region as well,
because A.Nimptschke and his Lithuanian partners had a company there as
well. Two prominent businessmen have been killed.

In Lithuania not only smugglers, but also justice officials, politicians
and journalist were involved in the war for redivision of cigarette
market. Public blackmail of daily 'Lietuvos rytas' begun. Lithuanian
special services started to watch our joint-stock company's share
holders and journalists. Finaly, newly reconstructed basketball arena
which belonged to the daily was set on fire.

This crime has never been disclosed.

Now A.Nimptsche is behind bars. German officials hopefully wait when he
starts talking. Supposedly quite a few heads of senior politicians and
justice officials might roll in so called Eastern block countries.







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